Olympe de Gouges in the Pantheon?

The Pantheon is the ancient church in which the Republic pays homage to the “great men for whom the fatherland [la patrie] is grateful.”

It is well known that women are absent from it, and, as a result, one suspects that Marie Curie and Sophie Bethelot[1] were admitted together, as if they were spouses, not separate individuals! Why is the Republic not more grateful for the women who have marked our history?

In every municipal assembly, the plaster-cast bust of Marianne,[2] inert and silent, has witnessed deliberations from which women were excluded until 1944 (while Chinese women won the right to vote in 1911).

The place is gloomy, and people often ask me why I fight to get admitted to such a lugubrious place a radiant women about whom – in 2003 – I published the best biography (by Olivier Blanc): Marie-Olympe de Gouges.[3]

I must make clear that the body of this beautiful woman from Quercy, after her decapitation at the Place de la Révolution, was thrown into a common grave, and that – in the absence of beer/lacking a coffin [faute de bière] – its transfer will be assured in the form of a bottle of Cahors wine. And thus will cease the absurd cult of disinterring the bodies of the people whom one wishes to honor, as if our secular republic cannot deprive itself of its mimicry of the Catholic religion and its cult of holy relics. Why indeed was the burial place (in Villers-Cotterêts) of the great Alexandre Dumas disturbed, in 2002, in the name of honoring his memory?

I share the recent opinion of several feminists of both genders: Marie-Olmype de Gouges is the real and authentic Marianne of the French Republic. Opposed to the death penalty, and a republican, she proposed to defend Louis Capet[4] and to spare him from the scaffold. No doubt the only woman in the “Club of the Friends of the Blacks,” she had the Comédie-Française perform an anti-slavery play. She made proposals for the reform of marriage. Her superb posters, affixed in the streets of Paris with an audacity that was rare for the times, are unknown masterpieces (now collected in the archives of the l'Assemblée nationale) that await republication.

Marie-Olympe was the inspired author of the most juicy and meaningful diversion of a French political text. In September 1791, on the very day that Louis XVI – who would remain the King of the French for a few more months – promulgated the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen” as a preamble to the Constitution, Marie-Olympe de Gouges published her exemplary and eloquent “Declaration of the Rights of Woman.”

In answer to the appeal of the then-head of State for a “Woman’s Day” to be celebrated every 8 March (first instituted by Lenin, it became an administrative custom in France in 1982), our Minister for the Rights of Women called for the formation of a “commission of scholars and historians” to identify the women who should be admitted to the Pantheon.[5]

Mrs Anne Hidalgo, the Deputy Mayor of Paris, immediately proposed Marie-Olympe de Gouges[6] to the learned assembly of the members of this institute, whose composition is still not known.

A supporter of the initiative of [Hildalgo, who is] the candidate to be the mayor of Paris, I believe it is useful to warn the President of the Republic that the rue Soufflot might become the location of unexpected confrontations if Marie-Olympe is kept in the clutches of the scholars (who have so far ignored her). It isn’t by accident that our presidents have long refused her the tribute of entering her in the Pantheon.

Jacques Chirac certainly traveled to Montauban (where Marie-Olympe was born from the love of the magistrate and scholar Jean-Jacques Lefranc de Pompignan for his foster sister) in order to read the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman,” but he refused to open the doors of the Pantheon to her. In the same way, Nicolas Sarkozy declined the proposition that – one says – was made by his wife. As for Mitterrand – then still encumbered by the Yveton affair and always ill at ease with the guillotine – he turned a deaf ear, no doubt on the advice of his dear friend from Montauban, René Bousquet.

The reason for this obstinacy is simple and liable to lead to troubles in the Latin Quarter and even further away, within the very heart of our high schools: Marie-Olympe de Gouges, pregnant at the time, was not guillotined by Louis XVI after a trial that lasted several minutes and at which he had no attorney, as several feminists are convinced. She was in fact decapitated six months earlier. And the man who made the decision to cut off the head of Marie-Olympe on 3 November 1793 is a sacred cow to our professors of history: Maximilien de Robespierre.

This evidence is often hidden by the feminists who would like to both honor Marie-Olympe as their most eloquent spokesperson and glorify the Jacobin [Reign of] Terror. Thus they must confront reality: Marie-Olympe de Gouges was close to the Girondins; with passion and talent she spoke out against Robespierre and Marat. And if Marie-Olympe de Gouges is admitted to the Pantheon, she must enter it along with Charlotte Corday and Roch Marcandier, who, like Marie-Olympe, denounced the “September massacres” organized and perpetrated by Danton and his associates. But can the President of the Republic, standing on a platform at the rue of Soufflot, recite the ode in tribute to Charlotte Corday, written by André Chénier, one of the last to be guillotined by the Montagnarde Terror?

No, no, I do not want to honor you in silence,
You who believed that your death would resuscitate France,
And devoted your days to punishing infamies.
The gladiator’s sword in your hands, great and sublime girl,
To shame the Gods, to redress their crimes,
When they gave the traits of a man to this monster.[7]

Of course, I want this to happen, and I do not doubt that the President knows this poem by heart. But how many graduates from the Ecole nationale d’administration have instead chosen [remarks by] Louis Antoine de Saint-Just to “baptize” their promotions? And how many of the President’s deputies are truly ready to let him challenge the idiotic vision of the Terror that is presented in our classrooms?

A test simple is open to Mrs Hidalgo in her capacity as a representative of Paris: to read [proof], engraved in marble, that the French Revolution was in fine anti-feminist in an outrageous and bloody fashion, it is sufficient to go to the mass grave at Picpus, nearby the Bel-Air metro stop, where the decapitated and naked bodies (the discarded clothes were given to the executioners as a form of payment) of the 1,300 last victims of the Terror were buried over the course of a period of a month and a half, from 14 June to 27 July 1794. There Mrs. Hidalgo can read that the majority of the condemned were women, often young or aged, from modest backgrounds.

Infuriated by the ceaseless conveyance by carts of those condemned to death from the Conciergerie to the Place de la Révolution (thereafter the place de la Concorde), the merchants on the rue Saint-Honoré asked that the scaffold be moved. Fouquier-Tinville moved it to the gates of the Trône-Renversé, where the amount of blood spilled increased (in one day, 300 liters of it from 15 guillotines) obligated the town to devise a system of wooden gutters that kept the blood of the condemned from being lapped up by Paris’ packs of wild dogs.

Why not invite Mrs. Hidalgo to visit the cemetery at Picpus? That is the test I propose: does the Deputy Mayor of Paris have the courage to demand that the name of the street that borders this cemetery be changed? In 1905, it was deliberately named after one of the most abject profiteers from the Terror, the brewer Santerre, by other Parisian officials, her predecessors.

The name given to this street is a useful reminder that our French Revolution was rapidly led astray by crooks who enriched themselves (Santerre, Barère de Vieuzac and so many others) and bloody scoundrels (Fouché), and that it was ferociously anti-feminist under the Jacobin [Reign of] Terror, which issued insane declarations such as the one (to pick a single example among many) made by Chaumette, the town’s prosecutor, who, the day after the execution of Marie-Olympe de Gouges, threatened a delegation of women that they, too, would be killed if they did not immediately return to their ovens and housework.

Likeable Maurice Dommanget taught in our schools at the time he wrote his biography of Sylvain Maréchal – the patriarch of French socialism – who in 1801 did not hesitate to publish a “Plan to keep women from learning to read.” Alas, this wasn’t an instance of satire.

In several paragraphs, I have recalled the obvious facts that emphasize why Marie-Olympe de Gouges has been mistreated by the Republic and its teachers for more than two centuries. As recently as 2003, Fayard refused to publish the biography of her written by Olivier Blanc. The fact that, today, in comic strips, outside the walls of the universities, and in books published by small presses, people are giving her the tribute she deserves – this is progress that I welcome.

But I must point out to our President that our history professors still aren’t ready to accept the fact that Mad Maximilien,[8] the Ayatollah of the Supreme Being (recall his ridiculous ceremony at the Champ de mars, staged by Jacques Louis David, on 8 June 1794), and the ancestor of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, is put into question by the sudden appearance of the shadows of Marie-Olympe de Gouges and, inevitably, her sister Charlotte Corday, upon the rue Soufflot.

The Pantheon has already been, indeed, early on was already the location of confrontations of this nature. Mirabeau was the first Pantheonist: it was for him that this republican cult was instituted. We must remember that he was one of the initial heroes of the Revolution and that Marie-Olympe de Gouges published a piece to celebrate him. But his coffin was promptly ejected when it was discovered – in the “Iron Cabinet” at the Tuileries – that he maintained secret links with the King and Queen. Then Marat was admitted with great pomp after he was stabbed by Charlotte Corday on 13 July 1793. But his body was rapidly reevaluated, thrown into “the dustbin of history” when it was re-buried in a neighboring cemetery on 8 February 1795 and his funeral eulogy was erased.

Our Minister for the Rights of Women should visit the Pantheon as soon as possible. There she will be welcomed by [Jean-Jacques] Rousseau, whose emaciated arm, bearing a torch, breaks through his burial place in the ground in a realistic way. Perhaps she will hear what I believe I have heard him say.

“Just as Mirabeau, whose praises you have written, was admitted here, then chased away; just as Marat, whom you have spoken out against, was made a part of the Pantheon and then rejected; shouldn’t you, Marie-Olympe, be admitted here? Along with the terrible procession of women guillotined by the Jacobin Terror and those massacred in September 1792, the paid perpetrators of which you have denounced. It would certainly be a great joy for me to be reunited in this somber building with the memory of your radiant and loveable beauty, especially if your arrival – with Charlotte Corday – signaled a questioning of the Jacobin Terror that has, since then, been the mother of all of the totalitarian dictatorships. But will this happen? What are the plans of the President of the Republic?”

[1] Note by translator: these two women, both of whom were scientists, are the only women currently present in the Pantheon.

[2] Note by translator: one of the national emblems of France, she is a “generic” woman, not a real person.

[3] Link provided by the publisher: www.monde- diplomatique.fr/2008/11/BLANC/16516.

[4] Note by translator: aka Louis XVI.

[5] Link provided by the publisher: www. lepoint.fr/culture/olympe-de-gouges-et-louise-michel-plebiscitees-pour- entrer-au-pantheon-08-03-2013-1637781_3.php.

[6] Link provided by the publisher: www.liberation.fr/ societe/2013/03/08/anne-hidalgo-propose-de-transferer-olympe-de-gouges- au-pantheon_887198.

[7] Link provided by the publisher: http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/andre_ch_nier/a_charlotte_corday.html.

[8] Note by translator: English in original.

(Written by René Vienet and published on 19 March 2013 by the Huffington Post Translated from the French by NOT BORED! on 21 March 2013. Footnotes as indicated.)

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